Ofcom’s control of the media has got to go

Guest article from Jonathan Rainey


Following the debates in the UK Parliament surrounding the new Online Safety Bill [1] which, while it has it’s good intentions on tackling some issues like children accessing bad material, promotion of self-harm (centred primarily around the case of 14-year-old Molly Russell who committed suicide after finding material encouraging her to cause herself physical harm & posted online publicly about her bad depression [2]), internet fraud and cyberflashing, it officially proposes that Ofcom, the British regulator of postal & telephone communications as well as radio & television broadcasting, regulate the entire range of the internet as well. As part of the process of setting up a new radio or television station to please any genre of your choice, so must you also please the regulator by following it’s Broadcasting Code [3][4][5] when operating it. Part of the broadcasting code involves not broadcasting material that isn’t suitable for children to see and/or hear between the times of 5:30am and 9pm, otherwise known as The Watershed. Should you choose not to follow these rules, the regulator will come down on you hard with warnings and/or fines levied your way along with the ability to shut you down. Can you imagine what will happen when these rules are applied to social media companies, art-product-selling websites, video gaming platforms and third-Party website hosts with threats of fines targeting 10% of the company’s annual turnover? Will it therefore be possible to criticise the government & any other person or organisation about certain issues without it being deemed ‘harmful’ or ‘misleading’ or even ‘grossly offensive’ by the regulator and many of the aforementioned providers having no choice but to tow Ofcom’s line or else in order to maintain relevance? What happens if video gamers decide to get a little too edgy in the audio chats for both the multiplayer gaming platform and the regulator’s likings, with similar consequences possibly applied to sports fans on other platforms?

Before OFCOM first started to emerge via the Office of Communications Act 2002, with full authority being granted to it via the Communications Act 2003, both of which were pushed under the Blair Administration at Number 10 Downing Street, and came online on 29th December later that year, five different regulators existed in the UK which included:

All of them were set up to regulate several specific areas of communication of their own accord. On 20th June 2001, Queen Elizabeth II in her speech to the UK Parliament announced the Blair government’s agenda for the creation of Ofcom. The new body, which was to replace several existing authorities, was conceived as a “super-regulator” to oversee media channels that were rapidly converging through digital transmission. On 1st October 2011, Ofcom took over responsibility for regulating the postal services industry from the Postal Services Commission (or Postcomm which was established in the year 2000). The Digital Economy Act 2017 passed under the May Administration extended Ofcom’s remit and powers. Ofcom were given powers concerning the minimum broadband speed provided by Internet service providers, the ability to financially penalise communications providers for failing to comply with licence commitments and the power to require public service broadcasters to include a minimum quantity of children’s programming made in the UK. The act also transferred to Ofcom the regulation of the BBC, a duty previously undertaken by the BBC Trust. The rest of the actions including the Online Safety Bill all came despite then-leader-of-the-UK-Conservative-Party & PM David Cameron pledging in 2009/2010 to cut back some areas of OFCOM’s powers, particularly wanting to limit it to licensing only, but wanted policy-making functions to return to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Amongst the channels formally sanctioned by Ofcom include PressTV of Iran in 2012 [6], CGTN of China (whose host country then subsequently banned BBC World from being broadcast there in 2021) [7][8] and Russia Today (RT) as of last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine [9][10], the latter of which in particular would allow a mixture of progressive, libertarian & Conservative voices to be aired with much less interruptions, though it is fair to say not everyone had the time of their lives on air with RT’s Presenters! Nevertheless, it didn’t stop politicians and public figures from being blasted by the establishment & those doing it’s bidding for daring to guest on the network’s shows, with the main criticisms aimed at the fact that RT is funded by the Russian Government with Vladimir Putin in charge. Yet strangely not a single ounce of proof has ever been produced of guests being told to forcibly never criticise Putin at all costs to this day but the pro-government-run morally superior attitude of showing how we are better than him because we are the Wonderful West persists.

Following the frustrations of many people across the UK who felt the traditional big mainstream press was already proving itself to be a disgrace, GBNews got launched in 2021 to provide alternative voices primarily from a centre-right to right-wing perspective but also airing voices of commentators & experts who have differing viewpoints. With the hiring of presenters including comedian Andrew Doyle, Beverley Turner (former LBC Radio host), former Sun Newspaper Bizarre Showbiz columnist Dan Wooton, actor & leader of the Reclaim UK Party Laurence Fox, Mark Dolan (former host of Channel 4 prank show Balls of Steel), Political Commentator Mark Steyn, Former Brexit Party MEP Michelle Dewberry, Nana Akua, Neil Oliver (notorious for presenting the BBC’s Coast programmes), former MEP and leader of UKIP & Brexit Party Nigel Farage, Patrick Christy, etc, things seem to look on the up for at least the silent majority of the public who voted Leave in 2016 and the Brexit Party & Conservative Party in the 2 elections of 2019, that looked more keen to tune out of consuming the press at all. That is until you think back to the aforementioned rules including the Broadcasting Code and you realise Ofcom can get involved anytime they want to should they get complaints from any member of the public, which was exactly what they did with the station after Mark Steyn aired a series of opinion slots & guest interviews talking about the side effects of the Covid-19 Vaccines. [11][12][13] On the tail-end of complaints made by triggered members of the public presumably including Dr Matthew Sweet (a journalist, historian and TV & Radio Presenter who hosts a BBC Radio 3 programme ironically called Free Thinking) who tends to publicly air his grievances about GB News on his Twitter account to the point where he wants it shut down entirely [14], Ofcom concluded from an investigation into a show that aired in 21st April 2022 that the episode “fell short of these standards – not because it exercised its editorial freedom to challenge mainstream narratives around Covid-19 vaccination – but because, in doing so, it presented a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or counterweight, risking harm to viewers.” [15] So the likes of Good Morning Britain and Lorraine Kelly of ITV can have Dr Hillary state one side of the narrative surrounding the vaccines without any challenge and get away with it but not when it’s someone who dares to disagree with the narrative, even when they invited someone like Dr Sweet to appear on his show but got publicly turned down? Welcome to clown world. [16][17]

Then strangely, new campaigns for Ofcom to take action against GB News as well as new investigations over rule breaches from the regulator were pushed not just in early February 2023 against Coast Presenter Neil Oliver on 8th February 2023 over claims that his Saturday evening show segment about governments colluding to oppress people & form a one-world Government were allegedly ‘anti-Semitic tropes’ [18] but also on 3rd April 2023 regarding the appointment of 2 Conservative MPs (Phillip Davies & Esther McVey, both of whom are married to each other) on the channel. The 39 complaints were about the couple’s show aired on 11th March where they interviewed Conservative Chancellor Jeremy Hunt about his Spring Budget. The rules around politicians being presenters or reporters in news programmes are prohibitive “unless, exceptionally, it is editorial justified”. However, they are allowed to host current affairs shows as long as a range of views are reflected. Given that GB News has some form of bias, particularly on right-wing topics and medical freedoms, and that Ms McVey has been known to ask tough questions in the parliament regarding the side effects of the Covid Vaccines, this certainly proves to be quite a suspicious coincidence. At a Department of Culture, Media & Sports Committee (DCMS) meeting on 14th March 2023, SNP MP John Nicolson, one of the members of the committee, told Ofcom CEO Dame Melanie Dawes, “It is a news programme, obviously. Two MPs are interviewing, on a news channel, a Tory Chancellor, about the news. That is a news interview… it’s not a cooking programme.”. [19] When GB News announced in mid-January 2023 that it would be mandating all of it’s presenters to receive training on obeying the rules for Ofcom, this proved to be the warning to any TV (or radio) channel wishing to stand up to the political establishment that if you squeak up, you will surely be squashed in the end. [20]

The whole narrative surrounding the jags proved to be completely one-sided for nearly 3 years still to this day, with the campaign put in place that we the people had to take it for our safety and everyone else’s safety or else we face the consequences because there was something wrong with that line of thinking. There was to be no criticism of institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO) or else you would be seen as ‘undermining public health’. [21][22] Expect more campaigns to ‘combat disinformation’ & ‘deliver digital safety’ to ramp up following the attendance of Ofcom at the World Economic Forum’s January 2023 summit in Davos, Switzerland, where they are also a part of the Global Coalition for Digital Safety amongst many other major private organisations campaigning to ‘tackle harmful content and conduct online’ via public-private co-operation as part of a guide for stakeholders in the digital ecosystem. As if already supporting the aforementioned UK Government’s censorious Online Safety Bill wasn’t enough. [23][24]

For making the case that Ofcom should be out of the way, media companies who want to broadcast shows during the times of the watershed better beware the anxiousness of the British public who want to ensure their kids aren’t viewing or hearing things they shouldn’t consume, given that they responded warmly in a 2010 YouGov poll to overall wanting to keep the watershed in place for shows airing between 5:30am and 9pm. It’s a cautionary start but voluntary association ought to be taught as well given that the same survey revealed 51% of Brits are rarely or never offended by bad language used on Television. [25] The latter rule should also hopefully apply to anyone wanting to complain about the *modern day plots* of TV soap operas & even entertainment shows as turning off the TV might have some great benefits for your health, and if loads of people did the same, it would probably help them them too.

Sources :-

  1. https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3137
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-46966009
  3. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ofcom
  5. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/11/introduction
  6. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-16652356
  7. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2021/ofcom-revokes-cgtn-licence-to-broadcast-in-uk
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/11/china-bans-bbc-world-news
  9. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-60495417
  10. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2022/ofcom-revokes-rt-broadcast-licence
  11. https://www.steynonline.com/13231/has-ofcom-popped-steyn-balloon
  12. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/jul/28/gb-news-faces-ofcom-investigation-host-mark-steyn-covid-booster-claims
  13. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2022/investigation-gb-news-mark-steyn
  14. https://mobile.twitter.com/drmatthewsweet
  15. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2023/ofcom-finds-the-mark-steyn-programme-on-gb-news-in-breach-of-broadcasting-rules
  16. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-59941580
  17. https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/14/gb-news-served-with-brutal-rejection-letter-from-potential-guest-17378176/
  18. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2023/feb/08/jewish-groups-urge-gb-news-to-stop-indulging-conspiracy-theories
  19. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-65164827
  20. https://leftfootforward.org/2023/01/gb-news-to-force-presenters-to-take-training-workshops-brushing-up-on-the-law-and-ofcom-to-avoid-mistakes/
  21. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/information-for-industry/guidance/broadcast-standards-and-coronavirus
  22. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/media-literacy-research/coronavirus-resources
  23. https://www.weforum.org/impact/online-digital-safety/
  24. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/ofcom-safety-b1003551.html
  25. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/society/articles-reports/2010/12/13/watching-watershed


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